Grotto of Miracles

Sun City Girls

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Grotto of Miracles Review

by Eugene Chadbourne

Even as far back as the mid-'80s, this group's versatility was the stuff of legends. There was the gig where all the Sun City Girls did was an extended cover version of an old soul song, forcing the entire audience of skate-punkers out into the street. There was the gig in the jazz club in Rochester, NY, where Rick Bishop stayed on piano and they imitated the Paul Bley trio all night. There was a gig in an Arizona wrestling rink, when the group's entire set consisted of a note-perfect cover version of the entire score from the surreal film El Topo. Okay, take a deep breath, here comes this album, cut early in the band's career for a combination music label and skateboard manufacturer for whom at least one bandmember toiled in the warehouse, packing boxes. Side one kicks in with a wonderful rock instrumental version of what is identified as the Tangier Radio Internationale theme. Wow. From then on it is a shift back and forth between superbly played trio tracks, often instrumental but also making use of vocals in an always creative manner, and passages of what is best described as weirdness. The group can be gentle, savage, rocking, funky, and swinging. Sure, the swing on "Swing of Kings" is more the swing of garage bands, despite drummer Charlie Goucher's ambitions to finally mutate Max Roach into Sunny Murray. Yet when this track goes into its herky-jerky, "out" middle section, the performance is brilliant. What the band always seems to do best is music coming from any kind of Arabic influence. In this context, the Sun City Girls simply have no peers. The traditional "Kal el Lazi Kad Ham" is given a magnificently intense ride, complete with wall of noise guitar buildup. Typical mid-'80s analog recording gear gives the music an earthy sound, helpful because of the sometimes thin sound of the band. Despite the listing of many bizarre instruments on the liner, most of the record is dominated by simple guitar, drums, and bass. As inspired as much of this is, there are indeed moments when the three musicians lapse into noodling.

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